2015 GMC Yukon Denali: Ultra-SUVs are Back

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GMC is on a roll, and the impressive redesign of the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali will likely keep that roll going.  

This truck division’s sales have returned to pre-recession volumes. Attribute it to “Professional Grade” marketing, better economic times, more interesting product, relatively cheap gas, whatever – the GMC train is rolling, and its typically heavily-optioned trucks have profit margins that fuel the division’s corporate parent. Would GM rather sell a steel-wheeled Chevy Cruze or an optioned-up GMC Yukon Denali? We all know the answer to that.

Which would you rather buy? Previously, the competent Cruze would have been preferable to the mushy suspensions of the Yukon’s first two generations and the blandness of the version that followed. Fortunately, this new 2015 Yukon Denali is something else; it’s a full-sized SUV with sharp handling responses. This new Denali combines the even temperament of a touring car with the brawn of a workhorse. It’s a truck you come to admire, and most who see it admire it too.


But do you need this much truck? That’s the question to ask when you see that GMC isn’t giving these SUVs away. The absolute base price of a Yukon is a bit over $47K for a two-wheel drive SLE, which comes well-equipped with with an eight-inch center screen, a backup camera and front and rear park assists, a segment-exclusive front-center airbag (to prevent front-seaters from braining each other in side impact crashes), and more.

Jump up to the Yukon Denali, and the price for a two-wheel drive version hits at just under $64K. That $17K increase bumps the V8 engine from 5.3 liters to 6.2, and it throws in everything from Active Noise Cancellation to Magnetic Ride Control.

Continuing to the options list, the tested four-wheel drive Denali added $8K in features, including the $4,110 Touring Package, which among its features includes an anti-theft system with an inclination sensor and self-powered horn. The extremely handy retractable running boards are $1,745, Adaptive Cruise Control is $1,695, and $495 upgrades the Touring Package’s chrome 20-inch wheels to a striking set of painted 22-inchers. Total as tested is an eye-watering $74,720.


Steep price, yes. But if any big SUV should cost this much, then it might as well be this Denali. The giant and dense grille evokes authority and success, and the price becomes immaterial when the vehicle you’re driving gets so much respect from the people who see it. If the Denali is a practical choice for you, then why not?


Defining it as a practical choice means needing three rows of seats, or 8,000+ in towing capacity, or a V8 engine to haul you around. Chances are you could get by with less.


But what if you wanted more? Then step right up, because this redesigned Denali is tremendously fun to drive. The 6.2-liter V8 engine grunts with 460 lb-ft of torque, and it sprints the 5,800-pound Denali from a stop with a wonderfully immediate throttle response. Steering feel is reassuringly firm, and the Denali resists the rolling and squatting and diving that used to define SUVs; in fact, a passenger said “Wow!” after I pulled a left-right slalom around a double-parked car. He added, “I really thought a truck like this would roll over its tire sidewalls in a maneuver like that. This one feels solid”.


There’s that respect again; the Denali garners it in so many ways. Clapping your eyes on the Denali’s genuine aluminum and “Java Burl” poplar wood trim is a pleasure, and the configurable instrument cluster is crisp and clear. The center screen functions logically, and the heated and cooled front seats give bracing support. It’s a cockpit-like atmosphere that makes you forget you’re in a truck, even though the bin under the center armrest is wide enough to accommodate hanging file folders. On top of that bin is a padded tray for your smartphone, and behind it are climate controls for the rear passengers and a 110-volt power outlet. There’s not a lot that GMC forgot.


There are some niggles. Two USB ports are provided in a covered console bin, but they angle up your flash drives so that you can’t close the bin while they are connected, making them a sight for thieving eyes. Also, I found myself neglecting to raise the Denali’s rear windows when locking it up, because while the front and rear windows are one-touch down, only the fronts are one-touch up. The power window control pod creates a hard contact point for the driver’s left knee. And while six-footers will fit in the third row, they’ll sit with their knees up and their heads against the ceiling bulge that houses the power tailgate mechanism.


Of course the Denali comes with a full suite of safety features, and they worked well. Rear Cross Traffic Alert is especially helpful when backing out to a busy city street, and the Lane Departure Warning vibrates the driver’s seat cushion to alert you when you go off-course. Parking sensors and the wide-view rear camera obviate the need for the huge exterior mirrors on previous Denalis; you’ll appreciate the new version’s smaller size when guiding the Denali’s 80-inch width through tight spaces.


Which brings us back to the question: do you need this much truck? The overall EPA mileage rating of 16 mpg will serve as a regular reminder of the commitments you’ve made to the Denali’s size. But if it makes sense to you, then the Denali could make you happy indeed.

2015 GMC Yukon Denali

Base Price:  $66,675 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $74,720

Optional Equipment:
Touring Package: $4,110
(includes power sunroof, theft alarm, 20-inch chrome wheels, rear seat entertainment system, head-up display)
Running boards, power retractable: $1,745
Adaptive cruise control: $1,695
Aluminum 22-inch wheels with painted inserts: $495

Surprisingly firm handling response
Handsome styling, rich trim
Effortless power

V8 consumption
Minor interior niggles
Uncomfortable third row seats